I don’t know about you, but I’m so ready for fall. I’d love some cooler temperatures (not crazy cold, just a bit crisp), cozy soups, and cuddling under a blanket with my hubby to watch a movie.
It was a tough summer for me. We moved into our new townhome in May, after completing several renovations. Where there was carpet, we put down gorgeous new hardwood floors. Where there were peach-colored Corian countertops, we installed a sparkly black and brown granite, perfect for hiding turmeric spills. Where there were old white grimy appliances, we spruced up with new stainless gadgets. Where there were drab grey walls, we put soothing colors that we love.
Sounds great, right?
Except for the fact that when we moved in, so did the wasps and hornets.
When we were doing the renovations in the spring, we met our neighbor and asked her how she liked living in the community. She said, “It’s great except for the wasps are pretty bad in the summer.” She already had a paper wasp nest starting in the eaves of her roof in March.
I didn’t make much of it. I’d been stung by bees in young adulthood, and it wasn’t that bad. One of my friends taught me how docile bumble bees are when I was in college by letting one land on his hand. I typically keep a respectful distance, and everyone’s happy.
Well, none of that happened in the south.
Our neighbor wasn’t kidding. On Memorial Day weekend, they decided to start nesting in the portico over our front porch, making it really tough to get in and out of the house.
Our homeowners’ association quarterly pest control clearly wasn’t going to cut it, so we hired extra help. They took care of the portico and the multiple nests under our deck in the back. Yet, there were still dozens happily buzzing in the bushes and dogwood tree just steps away from our front door, and all around the deck in the back. They actually would fly up and look in the windows. They’d land on the car just when I needed to get in. They’d do their rounds by the front door.
And it just. Kept. Going.
So instead of a summer enjoying tea and wine on the deck, instead of feeling a nice breeze through the open windows as we unpacked, instead of gardening in our small plots, I kept the windows shut, let the plots stay in the fertile void, and felt terror every time I went in and out of the house, unless it was at night, when the wasps were less active. There were just so many of them, and these things are just SO big.
They weren’t the only ones. A few centipedes, palmettos, wood roaches, and a ton of little beetles tried to move in too.
Now, I know there are people out there suffering way more, and normally, spiders and bugs don’t bother me much. For some reason though, these uninvited guests, the stress of moving, back-to-back travel, and then the passing of my teacher (read my post, "The Ripples of a Great Teacher: A Tribute" here) all took a toll on my nervous system this summer. I had a hard time keeping my eyes closed during Savasana (Corpse Pose). My breath became shallow and quick. Focusing my mind in meditation felt impossible at times. I felt like I was always on alert, and I was exhausted and depressed. Does any of that sound familiar?
Here’s the thing. I just kept practicing anyway.
Even when it seems like you can’t practice, there’s always something to practice. There’s always something you can do to feel better.
It might not be what you usually do. Your go-to feel-good poses might not work like they typically do. Your practice might look different than it normally does, but there’s always something you can do.
In tough times, living your yoga, including and beyond the postures, can work magic and help you get through those challenges. If the postures aren’t working for you, there are so many other ways you can practice.
You might have heard me speak in class about the eight limbs of yoga, or refer to them here. They literally are a tool kit for getting present, renewing your energy, and finding relief when you apply them mindfully. Here’s a quick overview.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yama (Restraints). Yoga actually starts with these practices, rather than the postures. Their purpose is to help you live your yoga while operating in society. The practices include Ahimsa (Peace or Non-Violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Abundance or Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Continence or Moderation), and Aparigraha (Self-Reliance or Non-Jealousy). For example, when you acknowledge the truth of your stressed-out nervous system (Satya or Truth), it’s easier to choose an appropriate practice, like restorative yoga, that will help soothe it, rather than one that might agitate it (Ahimsa or Non-Violence).
Niyama (Personal Observances). These actions, as well as the Yama, guide you to get rid of disturbances that take you away from your practice, that distract you from the bliss and freedom that you’re seeking through yoga. They include Saucha (Cleanliness), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Perseverance), Svadhyaya (Self-Study or Study of the Ancient Texts), and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Divine). For me, it was helpful to keep coming back to Santosha (Contentment) and gratitude for our beautiful home, despite the critters buzzing around outside, and to keep asking (Tapas or Perseverance) why they bothered me so much and what I could do about it (Svadhyaya or Self-Study). I failed miserably in surrending the situation to the Divine (Ishvara Pranidhana) and trusting that I would be ok. I'll keep working on that one...
Asana (Postures). You know about these. In the big picture, their purpose is to prepare the body and mind for sitting in breathwork and meditation. Different postures tend to have different effects, which can be very subjective. In general, you feel AH-mazing after practicing them, especially if you’re following the Yama (Restraints) and Niyama (Personal Observances) as you do so.
Pranayama (Control of the Breath). Breathwork is essential to toning the nervous system and teaching the mind to focus prior to meditation. It also can recharge your batteries by bringing in Prana, or life force energy, as carried by the breath. In general, focusing on the inhalation is more activating, and focusing on the exhalation is more calming. I changed up my Pranayama practice mid-summer after my teacher passed away, and it made all the difference in the world.
Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses). The senses draw the mind outward. It’s not a bad thing, it just happens naturally. You see something, and your mind starts thinking about it and then a bazillion other things. You hear an unfamiliar sound, and your mind naturally wants to figure out what it is. You smell chocolate, and wonder where is it and when can you taste it? Oh wait, that’s me. So when you withdraw the senses, say, by closing your eyes, blocking the ears, or placing sandbags on your hands, it allows your mind to get quiet and focus more easily.
Dharana (Concentration). This practice is the precursor to meditation. You focus your mind on something, like a candle flame, a sound, a word, an image that brings you comfort, the feeling of the warmth of the sun on your skin, or the coolness of the moonlight flowing down the body, etc. When the mind wanders, which it usually does, you simply bring the mind back to your object of concentration.
Dhyana (Meditation). This action is simply Dharana (Concentration) sustained over time. Scientific studies are finding that meditation can offer many benefits, such as improved focus, reduced stress, help with anxiety and depression, ease of pain, growth of grey matter in your brain (which implies better learning, memory, and emotion regulation), slower brain degeneration, help with immune system function, and more. (Having trouble getting started with meditation? Click here for my free guide!)
Samadhi (Liberation, Freedom, Ultimate Absorption). This practice is Dhyana (Meditation) to the point of not knowing where you end and the item you’re focusing on begins. You merge with it and find freedom and bliss through that absorption. My favorite practice for reaching towards this state is standing in direct sunlight, closing my eyes, and imagining I am sunlight. Sometimes it actually feels like I am.
And because there aren’t enough infographics on the eight limbs of yoga out there (hahaha), here’s one for just for you.
I relied on the eight limbs heavily to get me through the summer, and it was eye opening to see where I wasn’t practicing and how that was contributing to my suffering. I, like you, am still very much learning.
What I love, though, is that you can apply these practices to any part of your life where you’re struggling, and feel more grounded, centered, rested, and empowered almost immediately, even if only for a few moments, knowing that you have the ability to reduce your suffering. It was the only way I knew to move through the time and the stress.
And guess what ? It worked! I’m feeling so much better. It helps that the wasp season is ending, and most importantly, that I kept on practicing. Something is better than nothing, even if it’s not the rigorous posture practice you think you should be doing.
SPEAK YOUR TRUTH
What challenges are knocking you off your game right now? Which of these yoga tools do you want to explore more? Which ones are your go-to practices for feeling better? Post a comment below let me know! I always love hearing from you!
In wellness, joy, and inspiration,